Election '84: the Mountain West

The sparsely populated Southwestern and Rocky Mountain states, with the exception of Texas, have little clout individually in presidential elections. But in 1980 they delivered their 77 electoral votes (29 from Texas) in a solid block to Ronald Reagan. Indications are that block will be just as solid this year.

In every other political race, voters in the interior West run roughshod over party lines. Every state in the Rockies and Southwest has a Democratic governor, although they all sent their electoral votes to Reagan in 1980.

People in these parts tend to be independent and anti-institutional. There are no strong ties to parties, few traditional loyalties, and little class consciousness. Political machines are weak. The organization candidate, as Walter Mondale was portrayed in the Democratic primaries, has a strike against him from the start.

Democrats may make inroads into the the all-GOP Utah and Idaho House delegations this year. A Republican may break the regional pattern and win the Utah governorship. Otherwise, the balance should change only slightly either way in the House, and may not change at all in the Senate. ARIZONA

For decades, Arizona has been a bastion of rock-ribbed conservativism, but newcomers in recent years have been a moderating influence. ''Goldwater country'' is also the home of longtime liberal Democratic Congressman Rep. Morris K. (Mo) Udall.

Mr. Udall will have no difficulty being returned to Washington this year, but one Arizona congressmen from each party faces a credible challenger.

Freshman US Rep. James McNulty is fighting a sort of town and country campaign to retain his seat. Mr. McNulty is a Democrat who supports balanced federal budgets. He is from Bisbee, a rural mining town about 10 miles from the Mexican border. His opponent, Jim Kolbe, is a Republican from Tucson who supports the Equal Rights Amendment.

In an identical matchup in 1982, McNulty barely won as Kolbe carried the affluent sections of Tucson and McNulty carried the rural areas in the district.

Kolbe is hoping this year that the conservative, so-called Pinto Democrats will see that McNulty has been more liberal than they are.

Congressman Bob Stump has served three terms in Congress as a Democrat, becoming one of the original Boll Weevils to join Republicans in support of Reagan economic proposals. Now he is running for his second term as a Republican , and one of the most conservative in the House, at that.

His district, stretching from Phoenix to include all of northwest Arizona, is heavily Republican. But in a district where population grows 10 percent a year, a large number of voters don't know who their congressman is or how he is performing. This is where former newspaper publisher and broadcaster Bob Schuster sees his opening in a race that Stump still leads. COLORADO

The state that gave the nation its most visible neoliberal, Sen. Gary Hart, and one of its hardline conservatives, Sen. William Armstrong, is expected to deliver a typically split ticket in the November elections, returning a mixed group of conservative and liberal incumbents to Washington.

Ronald Reagan carried Colorado convincingly in 1980, and Walter Mondale won't be looking for much support here, even among fellow Democrats. Some party regulars privately say that a Mondale defeat wouldn't be all bad for Western Democrats. They see a reordering of the party in which power shifts from the old-line Democrats to the western neoliberals like Senator Hart, Gov. Dick Lamm, and US Reps. Patricia Schroeder and Timothy Wirth.

Republican Senator Armstrong is running a well-financed campaign for his second term against Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick, the Democratic nominee, who had to fight her way from behind to gain the Democratic nomination.

Democrats Wirth and Schroeder and Republicans Hank Brown, Ken Kramer, and Dan Schaefer are considered by state political experts to be safely in control of their congressional seats.

The only race here expected to produce political fireworks is in the Third Congressional District, an area that includes the diverse interests of cowboy and ski country on the Western Slope as well as the depressed steel town of Pueblo at the center of the state.

Democrat Ray Kogovsek is not seeking reelection, and Republicans see this as a chance to pick up an extra seat in the House. But the race will be close between two colorful locals. W. Mitchell, former mayor of Crested Butte, is the Democratic candidate. The former race car driver, now in a wheelchair, waged a successful campaign to keep a new mining operation off a nearby mountain and gained a reputation for the kind of maverick politics popular in this state.

His Republican opponent, Michael Strang, is a former district attorney who has a reputation for some political diversity. He supported legislation to legalize marijuana and advocated capital punishment for drug pushers. IDAHO

US Rep. George Hansen's legal problems offer the only possibility for Democrats to get a wedge into Idaho's Republican delegation in Washington. The arch-conservative congressman's popularity here seemed near-impervious when he was renominated by Republicans last June despite conviction on four felony counts relating to tax fraud. An early summer poll by Thomas Brown of Marcept Consulting and Research showed Mr. Hansen and his Democratic opponent, Richard Stallings, both Mormons, running neck and neck among the Mormon electorate here. But Stallings, a history professor, was well ahead of Hansen among all voters, with a margin of 25 percentage points.

''The Reagan coattail effect will help Hansen a lot here,'' suggests state Republican chairman Dennis Olsen. The President is expected to carry the state in numbers similar to the near-70 percent majority he took here in 1980. The enthusiasm for Reagan also will augment the conservative wave expected to return Sen. James McClure and Congressman Larry Craig to Washington by large margins. MONTANA

While 60 percent of Montanans were voting Republican for President in 1980, 55 percent were re-electing Democratic Gov. Ted Schwinden. Officials of both parties foresee no deviation from that scenario this year.

Governor Schwinden has mounted a ''Build Montana'' economic development campaign that focuses on cultivating a strong small-business base for the distressed state economy. The popular governor is considered unbeatable by officials of both parties.

Democratic US Sen. Max Baucus is likewise believed to have a strong hold on his post in a state that hasn't had a Republican senator in recent memory. But his Republican opponent, Chuck Cozzens, has linked his campaign with the President's through a television ad in which Mr. Reagan urges voters to pick Mr. Cozzens and says, ''If you're voting for me for President, don't vote against me in the US Senate.''

Though the state has voted Republican for President since 1948 and is likely to do so again this year, Sen. Baucus' national profile is probably not beatable.

Congressmen Pat Williams (D) and Ron Marlenee (R) are shoo-ins for reelection. NEVADA

Nevada's two incumbent congressmen - a Democrat and a Republican finishing their first terms - likely will be returned to office. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, a protege of powerful Republican Sen. Paul Laxalt, has a Democratic opponent only because Reno public relations specialist Andrew Barbano decided at the last minute to mount a campaign. Democratic Party officials admit he faces an uphill battle. Rep. Harry Reid, a Democrat representing the state's major population center, concentrated at the southern tip of the state in Las Vegas, faces Peggy Cavnar, the same GOP challenger he beat in 1982 by 16 percentage points in 1982. Observers say Mr. Reid's seat is safe.

Republicans and Democrats here are focusing their energies on the state Assembly races. The GOP needs to win three seats to take control. The Democrats want to prevent this so they can preserve Democratic Gov. Richard Bryan's control of the legislature. Political experts here say the presidential race will be a help for Republicans in the state legislative races because the turnout for Reagan is expected to be heavy this year, as it was in 1980. NEW MEXICO

US Sen. Pete Domenici (R), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is so popular in New Mexico that his coattails are figured to help carry President Reagan to victory in the state. Mr. Domenici's challenger, Democrat Judy Pratt, is more frankly liberal than most candidates in the Southwest care to appear this year, and she is considered to be putting up a creditable fight in a hopeless battle. A recent poll gave her 13 percent to Domenici's 80 percent.

Keeping Domenici's winning margin as low as possible is important to the prospects of other Democrats. Perhaps the most important race for them is Ted Asbury's attempt to dislodge Congressman Manuel Lujan (R) of Albuquerque. A ranking member of the Interior Committee, Mr. Lujan only won by only a few thousand votes in 1980 and 1982. Mr. Asbury is considered a stronger candidate than Lujan's last two opponents, but the incumbent still has a considerable lead in the polls: 56 percent to 22. OKLAHOMA

Congressman James R. Jones, powerful chairman of the House Budget Committee, has always had to balance his identification with the liberal Democratic House leadership against the conservatism of his home district in Tulsa. The balancing act looks tougher than ever this year. First-term US. Sen. David Boren, another Democrat, is also up for re-election this year, but he is one of the most popular politicians in Oklahoma. He has solid credentials as a ''boll weevil'' - a Democrat supporting Reagan economic proposals - and, according to Tulsa pollster Ken Baily, will probalby win 80 percent of the vote in November.

Represeantive Jones, meanwhile, sits in a heavily Republican district. Tulsa is the home of Oral Roberts University, and Christian fundamentalists are a potent political force. A challenger from the religious right ran only slightly behind Jones in 1982, but no one has succeeded in winning over enough of the more moderate, business-oriented conservatives in the district to defeat Jones.

This year his opponent, Frank Keating, is a state senator who defeated the favorite candidate of the religious right in the Republican primary. Mr. Keating hopes to have more appeal than past Republicans with moderate voters. He is targeting those conservative Democrats who will vote for Reagan at the top of the ticket, but are tending toward Jones for Congress.

Keating's work is cut out. Fully half the Democrats in Oklahoma plan to vote for Reagan, according to Ken Bailey's polls, but most of those voters prefer Democrats for other offices. Jones led Keating 50 to 36 percent in late August.

US Sen. David Boren, another Democrat, is seeking reelection to a second term Nov. 6, but he doesn't share Mr. Jones's problem. Senator Boren is one of the most popular politicians in Oklahoma and has solid credentials as a ''boll weevil'' - a Democrat supporting the Reagan economic program. He is expected to win 80 percent of the vote in November, according to Tulsa pollster Ken Bailey.

Jones serves what has become a heavily Republican district. Tulsa is the home of Oral Roberts University, and Christian fundamentalists are a potent political force. Though a challenger from the religious right came close in 1982, but no one has succeeded in getting more moderate, business-oriented conservatives in the district to desert the congressman. This year the Jones opponent is Frank Keating, a state senator who defeated the favorite candidate of the religious right in the Republican primary. Mr. Keating hopes to win over those conservative Democrats who will vote for Reagan at the top of the ticket, but are tending toward Jones for Congress.

But although fully half the Democrats in Oklahoma plan to vote for Reagan, according to the Bailey polls, most prefer Democrats for other offices. TEXAS

The hottest race in the Southwest, bar none, is for the US Senate seat of John Tower, retiring Armed Services Committee chairman. It's also one of the clearest ideological choices facing voters in the region. A clear-cut conservative, Democrat-turned-Republican Congressman Phil Gramm, is facing a clear-cut liberal, Democratic state Sen. Lloyd Doggett.

The Gramm-Doggett race is close, by all accounts. Mr. Doggett has shown real strength in urban Texas, mostly Hispanic South Texas, and the heavily unionized Gulf coast. Gramm was a leading architect of the first Reagan administration budget and is ''wildly popular,'' as one Democratic analyst puts it, in his congressional district, which stretches from Dallas to Houston.

Gramm, pursuing a ''rural strategy,'' has already campaigned in more than 200 of the state's 254 counties.

Otherwise, the watchword for Democrats in this Democratic but conservative state is damage-control. President Reagan is widely expected to carry Texas this November, as he did in 1980. And Texas Republicans hope he will carry them to some gains in the House and the state legislature. At least in the state races, Republican prospects are good. But since Democrats hold about 80 percent of Texas congressional and state legislative seats, the Republican Party is not likely to gain enough to control either delegation.

In the US Senate campaign, it's Phil Gramm's race to lose, but it should be close, by all accounts. Doggett has shown real strength in urban Texas, mostly Hispanic South Texas, and the heavily unionized Gulf coast.

Gramm, once a Texas A&M economics professor, has a couple of strong suits. He is well known as a leading architect of the first Reagan administration budget. And he is ''wildly popular,'' as one Democratic analyst puts it, in his congressional district, which stretches from Dallas to Houston.

Gramm's conservatism sells well in West Texas and parts of rural East Texas, so he pursues a ''rural strategy.'' He has already campaigned in over 200 of the state's 254 counties. The Gramm campaign is happy to portray the candidates as two able and experienced legislators committed to their values. The question Gramm is asking conservative rural Texans is, Whose values appeal to you?

Three of the contests for the 27 Texas slots in Congress are getting close attention.

The House seat Gramm is leaving behind may well fall to a Democrat. Dan Kubiak is running comfortably ahead of Republican Joe Barton, an engineer. Mr. Kubiak is a former state representative who has become well-known through three previous campaigns in the district. Mr. Barton will need more money than he has raised so far to make up the distance.

There is a much more unpredictable race in West Texas to fill the seat Rep. Kent Hance gave up to vie with Doggett for the Senate nomination. The Republican candidate, Larry Combest, is a former aide to Senator Tower, and Democratuc contender Don Richards is a former aide to Congressman Hance. So both candidates have clear ties to well-known and popular political forebearers. Mr. Combest will outspend Mr. Richards by four to one, but Richards starts with an advantage in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. At the same time, Ronald Reagan and Phil Gramm are likely to carry the top of the ticket here, and Republican Combest may benefit from that.

Republicans see a shot at winning freshman Democratic Congressman Tom Vandergriff's seat. Mr. Vandergriff won in 1982 by only a few hundred votes in what was generally a good year for Democrats.

But Vandergriff was mayor of Arlington, the district's largest city, for 27 years, and his family runs a well-established car dealership, so he has formidable political roots. And despite being a Democrat he can claim the highly sought-after label of conservative, thus taking some of the punch out of the campaign of his more conservative opponent, Richard Armey. UTAH

The Democratic hold on gubernatorial politics in the Rocky Mountain states could be broken in Utah, where Republicans hold most other major statewide offices.

Gov. Scott Matheson is stepping down after his second term, and Republican Norm Bangerter has taken the lead for the job over former Democratic Congresssman Wayne Owens, says pollster Dan Jones. Mr. Jones places Mr. Bangetter 14 points ahead. State Democratic Party chairman Patrick Shea says that lead will be hard to beat, but that it's not a bad showing for a Democrat, ''given Reagan's popularity in the state.''

President Reagan, who is expected to win here with an even bigger majority than in 1980, is being counted on to help keep Bangerter in his race and to help preserve a solid Republican congressional delegation.

Of the state's three congressional seats, two are considered safely Republican - those held by Reps. James Hansen and Howard Nielson.

But the national Democratic party has targeted the second Congressional District seat, vacated by Republican Dan Marriott, who made an unsuccessful bid for his party's nomination for Governor. The race for the seat is a cliffhanger between Democrat Frances Farley and Republican Lt. Gov. David Monson. A victory for Ms. Farley would be remarkable in this arch-conservative state because she supports the ERA and is pro-choice on the abortion issue. WYOMING

A Caspar, Wyo., newspaper columnist describes this election year as ''very dull'' in his state. Indeed, Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, co-author of the nationally controversial Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill, is heavily favored to defeat Republican Victor Ryan. Mr. Ryan, a retired University of Wyoming professor, decided to reregister as a Democrat and put his name on the ballot so Simpson wouldn't be running unopposed.

Republican Congressman Dick Cheney is heavily favored in his race against Democrat Hugh McFadden.

10-State Regional Political Profile Population: 28,807,000 White 82.5% Black 7.6% Other 9.9% Total electoral votes: 77 Average turnout rate - 1980: (Percent of voting-age (population.) 54.1% US House delegation Democrats 34 Republicans 23 US Senate delegation Democrats 7 Republicans 13 Governorships Democrats 10 Republicans 0 Source: Statistical Abstracts

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.